Friday, November 21, 2008

Gear Bag Friday: About As Wide As You Can Get - Review of the Sigma 12-24mm Lens

Good Morning Everybody,
Well, just two more days in Merry Ol' England and too much more to see. It is kind of cool being here this time of year. We are right next to Regent Street and Carnaby Street is right outside the front door of the hotel. The whole place is decorated for Christmas.

We took in another play last night, Billy Elliot, one of the really HOT plays playing at the beautiful Victoria Palace Theatre. Here is a photograph of the inside interior. I have to say, the star of the show is this 12 year old kid and he is the hardest working kid in London. It again proved to be another great show.

LaDawn and I love the theatre so this is a real treat seeing a few of them in the city known as the birthplace of theatre. Heck we are even going to checkout the recreation of the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre later today.

Tonight, we are heading back to the best, most exciting play in London - "Imagine This". We want to take in one last viewing before we leave for home early Sunday morning. I was suppose to be working on my wedding book while we were over here, but work time just seems to be in short supply while you are having fun - I'll have to really buckle down next week.

Anyway, that's the quick London update.

Hey gang, I think I've got a great Gear Bag Friday for you today. It's all about wide angle lens and about as wide as you can get, so let's get right to it.

About As Wide As You Can Get - Review of the Sigma 12-24mm Lens:
I mentioned many times that I've always been a BIG fan of wide-angle optics. One of my favorite lenses way back in my medium format days was Hasselblad's 40mm disk Distagon lens. It was a wonderfully wide optic and let me capture so many dramatic compositions.Now come the days of digital. I remember one of the first challenges most of us faced in our early digital days was finding a wide enough optic. That would give us a reasonable wide-angle view with our APS sensor sized cameras. The 1.5x magnification factor was just killing us with the then current crop of 35mm lenses that we already owned. That reality necessitated most of us rethinking our lens collection and making additional lens purchases to accommodate that 1.5x magnification factor.

Anyway I digress. When I picked up my Canon 5D a number of years ago, I was thrilled that it was a full frame sensor. That meant that when I put a wide-angle lens on the camera. I was going to get a really wide-angle view. Years ago, a 24 mm optic was considered very, very wide. I even remember the introduction of the 18mm wide-angle optic a number of years ago – WOW, was that wide. It had an unimaginable field of view for its day. We now have lenses that zoom from 18mm- 200mm in both the Canon and Nikon's arsenals – super cool!

But I was greedy, I wanted more. I want it wider. I wanted that lens to take in the entire horizon line without having to resort to a fisheye lens and its inherent distortion. Well, along comes Sigma with their introduction of their 12-24mm lens a few years ago. I got thinking, “What would that look like on my full frame DSLR?” It sure would provide a super wide field of view. I had to do it, I ordered the lens. It cost around $650 at the time, still a far cry from my $5,000 40mm Distagon lens for my Hasselblad – super cheap by comparison.

I remember putting the lens on the camera, looking through the viewfinder, and be blown away by what I saw. I was in “extreme wide-angle” heaven. I had visions of brand-new compositions dancing in my brain. I couldn't wait to go out and shoot with this baby. At the time, this was simply the widest angle optic that you could put on a full frame sensor, and was literally the widest field of view – 122 degrees -you could get on any digital 35mm camera.

I have to say, it was a kick to shoot with. Check out this cool image I did in Cabo San Lucas. It's the view from the balcony of my friend’s home. I just love how the image encompasses such a dramatic view of the surrounds. This, obviously, is one use for this particular lens -- architectural photography. I may have to be careful when I say that because architectural photography generally connotes that all parallel lines need to remain parallel. This is the case most of the time, but I think a super wide-angle optic can really bring some great dramatics into the composition with all converging lines that it can supply to the composition.

As a photographer, I like to see the soaring pillars reaching to the ceiling of the cathedral as shown here. And I like to see those lines converging adding to the sense of height and size and some of these magnificent churches. That’s what I love about this lens – the sense of the dramatic it brings to the image. Just look at the images accounting this article and you'll see what I mean.

You have to be careful though, when using this optic. If you get people or body parts anywhere near the corner of the composition, you will create some severe distortion of those people. But if you're careful, and keep the people on the horizontal and vertical center of the composition, you can create some really exciting images.
I typically shoot this lens at F5.6, which I call my aperture of convenience, because of my shooting routine with my off-camera flash. We'll go into that at another time at That said, I think the lens produces some quite nice results.

So what's the bottom line on this lens for me?
1 -- I just love the super wide-angle view of this lens. Remember, you get the best effects with this lens matched to a full frame digital SLR.

2 -- This is a fantastic lens especially when shooting interiors of some of these beautiful ballrooms in which I get to work.

3 -- This lens is great for pulling off some really, really dramatic views of the ceremony, whether shot from a side aisle, the back of the center aisle, or the balcony.

4 -- This lens is a great backup to my Canon 10-22mm lens when used on my Canon 40D.

5 -- When photographing people, be sure to keep him at the horizontal or vertical center of the frame to avoid any nasty distortion of the body parts.

6 -- Crank up the ISO on your new digital Nikon or Canon cameras, and get really low to the floor really stretching out those party shadows to get some really cool party pictures for your clients.
If you're wide-angle lens fiend, then this lens may be for you. It's a kick to use, it gives you some really unusual views, along with the opportunity to create some really cool compositions.

It takes a little practice to get used to. Be careful to avoid major distortions at the corners of the image, but just being aware of this issue helps you avoid it. Anyway, it’s one of my favorite fun lenses in my gear bag. I just can't wait for somebody to come out with an 8mm, 270° field of view rectilinearly (not sure if that's a real word) corrected wide-angle lens . Who knows, maybe in the next few years ;~)

Hey gang that's it for me today. We jump back on a plane Sunday and head back to the good old USA. I'll check in with everybody after the weekend a little recoup from travel.

See everybody back home on Monday. Cheerio, - David


  1. Thanks so much for this information! I have been considering a Canon 17-40 or 16-35 to round out my wedding coverage gear (currently have the 24-70 and the 70-200, as well as the 15mm fisheye) -- would you recommend this lens over the Canon wide angles?

    Thank you!

  2. I love this lens. I bought it two or three years ago and it's very cool.

    I also LOVE Billy Elliot! We laos saw it in London. I hear it's opening in NYC soon, if not already.

  3. So, David, you're a wide angle addicted, or at least you recognize the advantages of shooting wide in several scenarios.
    But, like a previous comment refers, is there any advantage of this Sigma over the EFS proposal? I mean, I know the latter is APS-C only, but for those (like me) planning to keep on that format for the next couple of years, what's the kicker in using this lens? Better price (I suspect not so, because of the increased image circle)? Better build quality (I guess the Sigma is better)? Less light falloff on the edges (I suppose that's also true)? Different color rendition? Slower auto-focus?
    I mean, you refer "this lens is a great backup to my Canon 10-22mm", so this is your wide-angle second choice, right?
    In the end, I guess I have such a long way to go in order to get my sensibility over "wide-angle prone" locations improved. Your ability to capture the environment and the mood of the scenes you're in is just breath-taking!
    Cheers from Portugal! (you could get here next time you get to Europe!) ;)